From the editor: A good kind of messAs long as the mess in the shop is related to woodworking, it's all good.
My shop is a mess at the moment. That’s not a great thing, but it isn’t all that bad. There are two types of mess in my shop. One stems from the natural activity of woodworking—the piled-up scraps on the router table, the tools not exactly where they should be, the workbench surface that’s a little too cluttered. I can work in this situation—and frequently do, until I finally stop and reset. That’s when I take a break, clear off the bench, and get my tools back in their homes (even when I try to convince myself that I’m going to use them in just a bit). A next-level cleanup might entail emptying the dust collector, cutting up scraps for the woodstove, or even sweeping the floor. A rule I try to follow is to never leave the shop feeling defeated. That may sound a little dramatic, but that’s when I hit the wall during a task, then hit the lights and close the door, leaving a mess to greet me on my next arrival. Instead, I try to take a minute to look around, put a few things away, and make sure that when I return to the shop, I’ll be able to move forward and won’t have to revisit yesterday’s mess and stress. Even that kind of mess, though, is still a good kind of mess.
The bad kind of mess can manifest itself in a roll of plumber’s tape and a pipe wrench on the bench along with the clamshell package from a bathroom faucet with its folded origami instruction sheet in microscopic type. Or maybe it’s an odd-sized Allen wrench and a stamped-out open-end wrench accompanied by a handful of extra screws (the ones you can never bear to throw away) left over from assembling a new office chair. This kind of mess comes from using your shop for tasks that, while important for maintaining peace in the home, are unrelated to why you took the time and effort to put together a shop in the first place. This kind of mess means that while you had occasion to spend time in the shop, it wasn’t the shop time you’d been looking for. That’s the kind of mess I need to take care of right away, the kind of clutter that I don’t want around me when I work. Those reminders of the stress of everyday life are the reason why shop time is often such an important luxury.
Even on days where I’m not able to spend a good chunk of time in the shop, I still try to pop my head in, take a breath, put away a tool or two, and then get on with my day, feeling just a little more prepared to face it. That’s when a good kind of mess really makes a difference in my mood. It means there’s a project or two under way and a good reason to make the time to get back in there and do the type of work that offers the greatest reward.